A Russian court on Thursday found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty of charges that she smuggled drugs into the country.
The court sentenced Griner to nine years in a Russian penal colony. Prosecutors had sought a 9 1/2-year prison sentence.
Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — spoke in court earlier on Thursday.
“I had no intent on breaking any Russian law,” Griner said.
Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department subsequently determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.
Last month, Griner pleaded guilty to the drug smuggling charges.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence after his conviction for spying.
American officials have reportedly expressed a willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a prisoner swap.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” said President Joe Biden in a statement after Griner’s conviction and sentencing. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Elizabeth Rood, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, described the verdict as “a miscarriage of justice” in a statement she read to reporters outside the court. The Human Rights Campaign also condemned the conviction and sentencing.
“This sentencing is unjust, plain and simple,” tweeted HRC. “Brittney Griner deserves to be back home with her family and loved ones.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.